Long-held secrets, fears of infidelity, meddling exes — these are themes that might seem most at home played out on “Days of Our Lives.” But they’re also the makings of “marriages on the verge,” a motif that connects The Chamber Theatre’s upcoming season.
Established last year, Chamber Theatre aims to tackle the early modernist dramatists and explore their work in new ways. This year, co-artistic director Martin French says he decided to focus on 19th century Scandinavian playwrights. The company will be performing “Creditors,” a tragicomedy by August Strindberg, and “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen.
The productions have been adapted from earlier translations, but French says both scripts — specifically “The Doll’s House” — have themes that inherently appeal to contemporary audiences.
“‘A Doll’s House’ is probably considered one of the most famous plays by Henrik Ibsen,” French says. “In its time it was scandalous and shocking, and in my mind it still has the power to surprise and shock.”
The play was originally written by Ibsen as a critique of 19th-century marriage norms — though it applies to ongoing talks of gender equality. It follows Nora Helmer, a housewife who seems happy on the surface, but is hiding a secret that could destroy her marriage with her husband, Torvald. That secret is eventually revealed though.
“Thus revealing to herself the lie that her marriage is,” French says. “That she is not seen as an equal. that she is seen in most ways as a plaything, a toy — the doll of the doll’s house.”
“Creditors” is a production that French describes as an “uncomfortable comedy.” The three-act play is set in a seaside resort hotel. It examines the relationship that a weak-willed sculptor, Adolph, has with his wife and his persuasive friend, Gustav.
“Creditors” has been described as one of Strindberg’s strongest plays — Strindberg even described it as his “most mature work.” But bookending the play’s influence are examples of the challenges that modern directors, like French, have when adapting works from another time.
“In Strindberg, there is always the accusation of misogyny, but the characters are realistic,” French says. (This archived 1985 New York Times article, “Sweden’s Nasty, Sexist, Racist Genius,” pretty comprehensively sums up the accusations.)
“So one of the challenges for me as director and for us as a company is to find the narrow line between Strindberg’s inherent misogyny and the truth of the characters and that situation,” French says.
This delicate balance is just one part of Chamber Theatre’s mission of adapting older (often foreign and relatively underplayed) works for today. But it’s one that is sure to be apparent this season.
Both productions will be staged in Vault 1031 (1031 S. Sixth St.).
“Creditors” will run Dec. 1-3, 5, and 8-10 at 7:30 p.m. “A Doll’s House” will begin its run March 16, 2017 and run through the 25th. More information is available here.